Engineering Toys for Girls | Brackitz

Engineering Toys for Girls

What exactly are engineering toys for girls?  The answer to this question first requires answering these two questions:
1. What are learning or educational toys?
2. What is engineering?

An eductational toy is a toy that has an inherent educational value. This may appear in a direct way (a toy that uses math games), or the educational value may come by way of learning through play with the toy. Wood block toys have long been known to provide a vast amount of educational value.

Engineering is the application of mathematics and other disciplines to invent, design, build, maintain, and improve structures, machines, tools, and systems.

This leads us to a third question: What is an engineering toy?  

Overlapping the above answers we come up with an educactional toy that reinforces the subjects of math, science, discovery, invention, design, and building through play. Naturally, wood building blocks and their more complicated constructions and building toys serve these purposes very well.


 

Girls Engineering a Ship with Brackitz at Lawrence Hall of Science

 

Equally important to reinforcing concepts is to reinforce process.  The engineering design process at its core is a process of solving problems.  The process goes like this:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Research solutions
  3. Build sample solutions
  4. Refine the solution
  5. Share the solution


This process defines engineering more than the specific subjects. Problem solving is a critical characteristic that successful engineers and scientists possess.  Problem solving requires creativity, testing, and collaboration. There are no step-by-step solutions. People who can solve problems have very bright futures in store for them.

Meaningful engineering toys will not only reinforce concepts, but will provide a fun environment for design and problem solving.  Children will share in the thrill of seeking a solution to a problem. This process is a natural one and starts very early in life with both boys and girls as illustrated in this article "Blocks: Great Learning Tools From Infancy Through the Primary Grades" on STEM and the Engineering Design processes published by NAEYC, the National Association of Education of Young Children.  Take note that this article is not about having children build fancy robotics kits or electronic circuits to lay the groundwork for future engineers.

Onto the main question: What is an engineering toy for girls?

There is much debate about this question right now. Which toys most encourage engineering? Some range from step-by-step pink toys that direct girls to build hair salons, others provide girls open-ended, non prescriptive toys.

Notice a few things about the first toy description: "step-by-step," "pink," and "salons".  All three of these go against the Engineering  Design Process.  "Step-by-step" does not encourage imagination and creativity in the problem solving process.  The overabundance of pink says "this toy and all it includes is for girls," indicating that this is how "girls should be" and excluding boys in the process. In other words, these toys suggest girls should work in a pink world, using step-by-step instructions, building stereotypical things like hair salons. Many argue that the color pink is necessary to inspire girls. We don't know about you but this seems absolutely absurd to the Brackitz team and goes against all of our experience in classrooms and science musuems nationwide where we find girls building, constructing, and inventing equally with boys.

 

 

 

Equally important to reinforcing concepts is to reinforce process.  The engineering design process at its core is a process of solving problems.  The process goes like this, first define the problem, then research solutions, then building sample solutions, refine the solution and share the solution. This process in some ways defines engineering more than the specific subjects. It--problem solving-- is a critical element of successful engineers and scientists.  Problem solving requires creativity, testing, working together. There are no step-by-step solutions. Those people that can solve problems have a bright futures.

Thus, any meaningful engineering toy will not only reinforce concepts, it will provide a fun environment for design, problem solving and a way to share in the thrill of seeking a solution to a problem.  This process is a natural one and starts very early in life with both boys and girls as illustrated in this article "Blocks: Great Learning Tools From Infancy Through the Primary Grades" on STEM and the Engineing Design process published by NAEYC, the National Association of Education of Young Children.  Take note that this article is not having kids build fancy robotics kits or electronic circuits to lay the groundwork for future engineerings.

Now, on to the main question: What is an engineering toy for girls? 

There is much debate about this question right now. The discussion of what toys best encourage engineering in girls ranges from step-by-step pink toys that direct girls to build hair salons to providing girls more open-ended, non prescriptive toys. 

Notice a few things about  the first toy description: "step-by-step", "pink", and "salons".  All three of these go against the Engineering Design Process.  "Step-by-step" does not encourage imagination and creativity in the problem solving process.  The overabundance of pink says "this toy and all it includes is for girls" indicating that this is how "girls should be". In other words, they should work in a pink world, doing step-by-step instructions where the machines and buildings are things like salons. Many argue that to inspire girls it must be pink.  I don't know about you but this seems totaly absurd to us at Brackitz and goes against all our experience in classrooms and science musuems nationwide where we find girls building, constructing and inventing equally with boys. At Brackitz we believe in the overall idea of let-toys-be-toys which let's kids-be-kids!

 

Building a roller coastser from Brackitz Engineering Toy

The opposite side might be some blocks of varying colors that do not have specific step-by-step instructions. If a girl used this toy and wanted to build a salon then that is the problem she is solving and it is of her own motivation and imagination. No one told her what or how to build. She might build a salon, or a bridge, or a house for her animals. The key difference between the two is that the child is using her imagiantion to solve a problem that's important to them.  Fast forward to college and a career, and this is the societal goal of an engineer: solving problems that are important and valuable to society. It is most definitely not to follow step-by-step instructions in a world colored pink.

 

Girls and boys engineering together.

We can turn this discussion upside down and think about the employer or our country staying competitive.  As a country, if we have problems to solve, don't we want a large number of problem-solvers?  If men and women offer slightly different (recent studies have shown genders are more similar than previously thought) perspectives on a problem, we want both genders to contribute.  If a certain culture offers yet another angle on the best solution, we want it! Why? Because we want the best solutions and this means opening our solution apertures as wide as we possibly can.

Do you remember the last time you saw step-by-step bridges, skyscrapers, or Mars rovers in pink? These magnificent inventions and structures are, and need to be, the collective accomplishment of men and women working together—not men working on gray buildings while women work on pink salons.

 

 

About Brackitz

At Brackitz, the reason we (moms and dads too!) exist is to make toys for all kids that unleashes the brilliance of their imagination through play.  To do this we build age neutral  toys for kids--boys and girls--that inspire their imagination and motivation.  In essence, we believe in the kids and their imaginations to create, play, invent on their own terms and not to a prescription. Brackitz makes engineering toys. All people welcome. Period.